Toyota knew acceleration problems for 'long time' - CBS 5 - KPHO

Toyota knew acceleration problems for 'long time'

Updated: February 1, 2010
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Toyota's president admitted Monday the company has known about acceleration problems for a "long time."

In 2007, when the Channel 4 I-Team first starting airing stories on sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles, Toyota's message was clear: It wasn't aware of complaints, and it wasn't looking into it.

Next week, a congressional hearing will focus on what Toyota and government agencies did know, and when.

Two years ago, more than 100 Toyota drivers -- more than any other company -- had filed complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA.

One came from middle Tennessee resident Frank Visconi, who said his Tacoma just took off on him and crashed.

At that time, the former director of NHTSA expressed serious concern about the I-Team's findings, as did a leading auto safety expert.

"I think what you have encountered here is a safety defect of significant proportions," said Joan Claybrook.

Monday, Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville said he's wondering why the government and the company didn't act faster.

"Think of the lives that could have been saved, the money that could have been saved if the federal government had just responded quickly, if they responded to what you found in 2007," Cooper said.

He sits on a congressional committee that will hold a hearing next week to investigate Toyota and the federal government's response. He said the I-Team's stories will be part of that congressional hearing.

"At least show the footage that you aired for local viewers here, because that was a real heads-up for the nation these great cars had a problem and the problem needed to be fixed, and yet we waited two to three years before any action was taken," said Cooper.

On Monday morning's "Today" show, Toyota president Jim Lentz said the company knew about sudden acceleration problems but wasn't specific for how long.

In the midst of the I-Team's 2007 investigation, NHTSA announced it would test a single Tacoma to see if it could duplicate the sudden acceleration problem.

The test on that single vehicle couldn't duplicate it, but driver after driver kept complaining.

NHTSA investigated six complaints with formal investigations.

A 2009 NHTSA investigation indicated the only common problem is the floor mat issue. Still, the driver featured in this report echoed what others drivers, like Frank Visconi, had said: the floor mats weren't the problem.

Still, no recall was announced.

In August 2009, a family of four died when their rented Toyota Lexus crashed. The next month, Toyota announced it would be recalling the 2007 Tacoma and millions of other vehicles because of floor mat entrapment.

"Did Toyota drag its feet, knowing it had a life-threatening problem, did your company drag its feet?" asked "Today" host Matt Lauer.

"No, I didn't believe we did," Lentz said.

He did say Toyota was able to verify and duplicate the gas pedal problem in October 2009 but didn't say when or if the company ever verified or duplicated the floor mat problem.

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